The Concord of Ashes
also known as Nösen or Bistrita
It is said that people have dwelt on this site on the bank of the Bystrica (Bistrita) river for thousands of years, with the Dacians being the most notable in the ancient world. The area lies squarely along the road to Tihuta Pass (Borgo to the Saxons), one of the widest and most hospitable routes into Transylvania. As such, it has always lain along profitable trade routes, and easily draws those of a courageous, innovative, and opportunistic bent. Unfortunately, this has also caused it to lie squarely in the path of just about every invader from the north that has sought the wealth and prosperity that such trade brings. Scythians, Sarmatians, Huns, Goths and Magyars have all ridden this way and left devastation in their wake, while the descendants of the Dacians have clung to their strongpoints in the surrounding valleys and stubbornly resettled again and again.
In the late 11th and 12th centuries the pride of these native Romanian lords has been dealt a stinging and perhaps fatal blow. Their resistance to the Magyars, now known as the Kingdom of Hungary, has waned in the face of particularly brutal reprisals from the west as well as sporadic Pecheneg raids from the north. Both of these groups have suffered as well, with the Magyar border lords losing many men to vicious attacks from night creatures while the Pecheneg tribes have suffered terrible defeats at the hands of the Cumans, a fellow Turkic people from further east. By AD 1140, tidings were equally dire across the entire Transylvanian region. In an attempt to remedy the unstable situation, the Hungarian kings invited hardy German settlers to the region. Over successive waves of migration and fortification, the Saxons have attempted to do just that, bringing trade, security and the true Latin faith to Transylvania.
For their anchoring settlement in the north the Saxons chose the foundations of a fortified village that had been conquered and garrisoned by the Magyars in the conquest. The site was originally known as Bystrica to the native Vlachs, and the Magyars had not bothered to rename the place, altering it slightly to Beszterce instead. The Saxons, in the spirit of brinkmanship with the troublesome Vlach lords of the mountain fastness, settled on the Germanised Bistritz for their new town. However, as few like to consider the settlements humble origins, and in light of the prosperity that has come to the town most of the Saxons here simply call it Markt Nösen (Market Nösen).
Bistritz is one of the most prosperous cities of the Siebenburgen, rivalled only by Mediasch and Hermanstadt and even those cities cannot rival the Markt Nösen in matters of trade. Like his father before him the current Burgrave, Radu II, has made free trade a priority, and has taken advantage of the collapse of several steppe trade routes to enhance the profile of his city. During the spring and summer trading seasons, it is not uncommon to find Magyars, free Vlachs, Pechenegs and Rus merchants here as well as the local Saxons. There is even a Venetian trading coster with a permanent base here.
Burgrave Radu II enjoys the full support of his council, as his leadership has brought much wealth and status to the Burghers of Bistritz. He has also managed to establish a shaky truce between some of the Romanian and Magyar lords in return for a yearly tribute, thus improving the flow of trade. The craft guilds maintain exclusive rights to practise their professions within the city limits, while the merchant guild has relaxed its stance on exclusivity owing to the increased growth of foreign capital. This latter development differentiates the city from its Saxon neighbours in the south, and was quite a coup for the young Burgrave in AD 1184.
The Pecheneg refugees from the steppes are a small but growing minority in the region. While the cream of their warriors were lost in battles with the Cumans, those that remain are still very capable horsemen (when they can acquire a horse) and excellent archers. Most live in small camps along the Bistritz river, and not a few have turned to banditry or mercenary work to survive these lean years. The Burgrave has employed and armed a number of these men and has also given their families sanctuary on his lands, thus earning a measure of loyalty from these steppe barbarians.
Titular Ruler: Burgrave Radu II of Bistritz
Cainite Ruler: Radu Visyaevitch syn Ionachev, Prince of Bistritz
Governmental Mix: Strong Burgrave, backed by full accord of trade and merchant guilds as well as edlers and landed knights. The level of cooperation in council is the envy of the other cities, matched only by that of the burghers of Mediasch in the past. The City Council is 21 strong, consisting of: Radu II, Kapitan Friderick ritter of the city guard, 7 landed knights, 8 guildsmasters, 3 edlers, and Father Albero.
Military Disposition: Standing army of 200 city guards, responsible for maintaining the wall watch, keeping law and order in the city, and patrolling the outlying roads and villages. This force is commanded by Kapitan Friderick ritter, who is ably assisted by Leutnants Wigand ritter and Werner ritter. A mercenary force of 60 Pecheneg mounted archers supplement this force. The town militia can be turned out in times of crisis, and consists of 1200 able-bodied men that are required to practice one saturday out of each month. The Nösen militia is funded by the guild and trade taxes and supplemented by the largesse of the Burgrave.
Population: c. 6100 (76% Saxon, 11 % Romanian, 5% Magyar, 5% Pecheneg, 2% Italian, 1% other including Bulgars, Turks, Poles and Rus). Most Romanians are employed as house servants while the Magyars are traders or factors for the border lords. The Pechenegs are mercenaries in the service of the Burgrave that have been allowed to bring their families inside the walls. The rest are merchants and their guards.
Economy: Strong, reliant on the trade route between Golden Kiev, the Hungarian West and the northern Italian city states. Merchants and traders of Bistritz are considered to be the best in the Siebenburgen. Local copper and silver smiths are also renowned for their wares, and the city boasts a large supply of pitch in the bogs to the east. The Guiild of Stonemasons is quite strong here too.
A note on Coin: Like those of Medisch, the burghers of Bistritz have taken to cutting silver pennies in the manner of the Hungarians, as their economy is quite strong and there is more stratification for prices of goods and services here and barter is growing less common. It is common to use half-pennies and quarter-pennies in Bistritz.
Known Cainites of Bistritz
Prince Radu (Clan Tzimisce, Childe of Visya)- a rare vampire prince who also openly rules his Domain as the mortal Burgrave, Radu never leaves his city and spends his every waking moment ensuring that the city goes from strength to strength. He has a reputation as an urbane and witty host, a canny politician, a cosmopolitan and as a someone who values variety in his city. Only the Tremere are unwelcome.
Seneschal Roslyn Wulf (Clan Tzimisce, Childe of Radu)- a capable politician as well, Radu’s childe has a talent for organisation and socialising, She helps him maintain the balance of power between the minor nobility and the guilds.
Sheriff Werner ritter von Bistritz (Clan Tzimisce, Childe of Radu)- a lowborn Saxon warrior raised to mortal and Cainite nobility by his illustrious sire, Werner ritter passionately defends his home and works hard to keep the city watch at his sire’s beck and call.
Scourge Rashiel, the Avenger(Clan Salubri, Childe of Keneniah)- a recent addition to Prince Radu’s court, Rashiel has chosen to ally with the Tzimisce and make a stand against the hated Clan Tremere.
Lady Perlina (Clan Malkavian, Childe of Heinricus)- a Saxon noble lady that appears to enjoy travelling the region overseeing her own mysterious agenda, which includes but apparently is not limited to trade, Perlina has chosen to base herself in Bistritz. Politics does not appear to interest her, but she appears to be on friendly terms with Radu’s brother in blood, Sergiu.
Frequent Cainite Visitors
Arianne (Clan Toreador, Childe of Oliver)- a gentle, romantic French lady visiting the region with the intent of introducing the ideals of chivalry and courtly love to this harsh land. Arianne is welcome in both the Arpad courts and those of their Tzimisce rivals. She has spent much of her time in Radu’s court of late, finding the prince’s temperament pleasing.
Sergiu Lazar (Clan Tzimisce, Childe of Visya)- Radu’s younger brother in blood appears to be a liaison of sorts between the prince and his sire, Voivode Visya. He is also a warrior on the front lines of Visya’s war against Voivode’s Mircea Dzardescu to the north-east and Vlad Ionescu to the south-east..
Prominent Mortal Residents
- Burgrave Radu II- The very popular noble ruler of Bistritz is, like his father before him, apparently named for a Romanian warrior that saved his grandfather Gerhard’s life. In truth, it would appear that this mortal is a carefully flesh-crafted dupe of his Tzimisce master. The mortal Burgrave Radu is an elegant example of how a Tzimisce might maintain the Silence of the Blood better than even a Toreador or Ventrue, many of whom speculate from afar as to how the prince of Bistritz manages to appear in public during the day…
- Kapitan Friderick ritter von Rothügel- As captain of the city guard and the watch, Friderick ritter is responsible for maintaining the peace and defensive integrity of the city. He coordinates these activities with his fellow landed knights outside the city, many of whom resent him. Like his capable lieutenant of the watch, Werner ritter, he was knighted by the Burgrave for fierce, devoted service to Bistritz.
- David of Frieberg (Guildmaster of the Innkeepers, Brewers and Vintners)- A smart businessman and a canny politician, David also runs the Sign of the Happy Merchant. He has many contacts among the caravan-masters and traders, especially the new Grimaldi trading house from Venice. Many of the other guildmasters support him in council, and he is considered the loyal opposition to the Burgrave.
- Gerhard Wulf (Guildmaster of the Merchants and Traders)- A relatively recent arrival in the city, having emigrated from Franconia in AD 1188, this wealthy trader has been instrumental in drawing French and Italian interest to Bistritz. He is very popular, and is David of Frieberg’s only true rival among the guildmasters.
- Joachim der Wiese (Guildmaster of the Stonemasons)- Shy and retiring, this aged man has a reputation for wisdom. He is a reluctant councillor, but gets reelected by his guild every year. While a very popular and respected man, he is a poor politician and keeps his council input to pithy remarks and the odd bit of moral advice.
- Ernst ritter von Hersel (a hero of the 3rd Crusade)- A 9th generation knight, Ernst ritter relocated to the Siebenburgen because, as the 4th son, he stood no chance of inheritance. He is the largest landowner of Bistritz outside of the Burgrave, and a strong voice in the council. Something of a patrician, he has little respect for the “new knights” in the city, and was a good friend to Franz ritter’s father.He looks disapprovingly on von Hillenberger’s antics and often tries to bring him around to “proper and right Saxon thinking”.
- Franz ritter von Hillenberger (landowner)- A 5th generation knight, Franz ritter is rather less than the chivalric ideal. While he has proven his martial prowess and earned his spurs (more or less) fairly, he was a bitter a disappointment to his father, who died in the 3rd Crusade. Franz ritter is something of a fop, and enjoys gambling and drinking far more than a respectable Saxon ought.
- Leutnant Wigand ritter von Saschen (Guard Officer)- Unlike his commander and brother-in-arms, Wigand ritter is a patrician knight and wears his arrogance on his sleeve. He is responsible for the day watch, and while he poorly diguises his ill-humour at having to answer to a “jumped up peasant”, he conducts himself as a professional soldier and does his job to perfection.
- Adalberto Grimaldi (merchant)- Leader of the Venetian Trading Coster in the city, Adlaberto is probably the wealthiest man in the city. He has become friends with the Burgrave and David of Freiberg and is frequently seen carousing in both the Great Northern and Happy Merchant. It is Adalberto that has brought much of the music and culture to the city along with his caravans and he is well-liked and respected as a result.
Inns of Bistritz
The Great Northern Inn: the most lavish and most expensive establishment in town. It is situated on grounds a few minutes walk inside the north gate, not far from Radu’s castle. It is very popular with the local knights, edlers and guildmasters, and Radu has designated it as Elysium. It costs 3 silver pennies to stay here each night, and meals and drinks cost a further penny. “Pleasurable, discrete company” can be had here for between 1 and 8 silver pennies for the night, although this does not include drinks nor food for the lass in question, and you are expected to provide it. One can also play at dice at the Great Northern. The proprietors are Achim the Old, a prominent guildmaster, and his wife Alida. Achim is David’s primary rival for control over their guild.
The Sign of the Broken Plow: just inside the south-western gate, this inn and tavern is popular with the farmers & guild apprentices. Quite a few servants frequent the place as well, though only those of the Saxon persuasion, as Vlachs aren’t welcome. The Broken Plow is very much a bastion of Saxon pride, and its clientele are typically uneducated and ‘salt of the earth’, and the place is a centre of ‘low’ town gossip. It costs 1 penny to stay here, or a half-penny to stay in the common room. Barter is also accepted. The spare food costs a half-penny and the weak ale and cider a quarter-penny. The proprietor is the churlish, parochial and racist Bernd.
The Sign of the Happy Merchant: on the public square, the Merchant caters to the obvious. It is within walking distance of the nascent Saxon and Italian trading costers, and is the most popular inn with foreign travellers, merchants and the entertainment that they bring with them. It costs 2 silver pennies to stay here, food costs 3 quarter-penny’s and drinks a half-penny, or 1 full pennies for the Italian wines. This inn also offers pleasurable company, though of marginally less quality than the Great Northern (between 1 and 4 silver pennies plus food and drinks per night). The proprietor is the current Guildmaster of the Innkeepers, Brewers and Vintners guild, David of Freiberg.
The Sign of Shining Sword: almost directly opposite the south-eastern gate, the Shining Sword is the oldest and most well-established inn in the city. It’s quality is similar to the Broken plow, and the prices are the same. It costs 1 penny to stay here, or a half-penny to stay in the common room. Barter is also accepted. The spare food costs a half-penny and the weak ale and cider a quarter-penny. The owner, Evert the fat, discretely (cha+commerce, diff 7, to discover) runs a cheap brothel out the back and a cock-fighting ring in the basement. The Shining Sword is popular with off-duty city guards, merchant caravan guards, long-standing militiamen and the rare proper mercenary.
Other Notable Locations
The City Walls: thirty feet high and bolstered by guard towers every fifty yards, the walls of Bistritz are the highest in the Siebenburgen. The northern walls afford an excellent view of the gibbet, the northern road and the Carpathians. The eastern wall is moated by the Bistrita river, and affords a view of the Carpathian foothills as well as much farmland. The western wall is bisected by the Klausen gate, while the southern is held by the Trade gate, which sees the most traffic. Well-armed guards patrol the walls and guard the gates at all times, especially after sundown.
Radu’s Castle: designed by the extraordinary Nosferatu master architect Zelios, Radu’s castle is a blend of aesthetic brilliance and military functionality. Indeed, the prince has invested much of his growing fortune in the past fifty years further beautifying this already magnificent castle. While perhaps not as formidable as the castle at Hermanstadt, it easily surpasses any of the other fortresses of the Siebenburgen. Radu’s castle affords a commanding view of the rest of the city as well as the distant Tihuta Pass.
The City Square: the centre of business and social life within Bistritz, the square hosts market days and fetes on a regular basis. A number of guild headquarters and foreign trading costers are based on the square, as well as the Church of St, Boniface and the Sign of the Happy Merchant. The square boasts no less than four public stocks, a sign of Burgrave Radu’s intolerance for criminality. It also has a well.
The Gibbet: a large gibbet outside the northern gate stands silent testament to Radu’s hard stance on law and order. It is intended to discourage raiding from the Pechenegs and others who would despoil Radu’s demesne, and has proven remarkably successful thus far. Those who are executed here are left to dangle for three weeks to provide an object lesson to all who would enter from the lawless northern pass and the lands beyond.
The Church of St. Boniface: A modest affair of stone and wood with a tile roof, the parish church of Bistritz is administrated by Father Albero, a Florentine missionary who works hard to convert the pagans of the mountains, as well as the heathen Pecheneg refugees of the north and those local Vlachs who still follow the Orthodox faith. Albero has few friends among his fellow Siebenburgen parish priests as he is not a Saxon, and his large flock in Bistritz has been hard won and just as difficult to keep. He considers Burgrave Radu, who attends services three times a week, to be an ally of sorts in his mission, owing to the nobleman’s patronage of Italian merchants in the city and the fact that he is a voice of tolerance. The Burgrave, in turn, speaks highly of Father Albero and compels many to follow his example. The church is often a social locus on sundays as it opens onto the city square.
The Hospice of St. Christopher: located near the south-western gate, Albero operates a small hostel for pilgrims (rare in these parts), and an attached hospice for the poor and sick who cannot fend for themselves. He regularly heads into the satellite villages to preach, and has some idea that night monsters prowl the forests, hills and valleys preying on God’s children. While he is a righteous, even suspicious, man he does not appear to suspect that one of his most ardent and faithful supporters is one of these ‘night creatures’. His deacon, Klaus, is responsible for the hospice in Father Albero’s absence.
Rashiel prays at the Church of St. Boniface nightly, and often tends to the sick and injured of the hospice. On the rare occasion that pilgrims make use of the hostel, he also prays with them and stands vigil while they sleep. He has even been observed patching the fence or repairing tiles by moonlight. Rashiel has taken the church and Hospice both for his Domain in order to protect Father Albero, Deacon Klaus and their assistants from Cainite interference.
The Bistrita River: a shallow, narrow river that meets up with the nearby Şieu river before emptying, in turn, into the larger Someșul Mare. The river services many of the basic water needs of the settlement, and moats the eastern and part of the southern wall.